Antwerp and Zeebrugge are embarking on formal negotiations for an amalgamation, possibly even a full merger
The two Belgian ports expect the outcome within two years. The merger process follows the positive advice from an audit by tax and accountancy consultants Deloitte Belgium and law firm Laga. Exploratory talks began in early 2018, it has been revealed.
“Their investigations clearly show that our two ports are highly complementary and that we share the same challenges,” Antwerp’s port alderman Annick De Ridder commented. “Together we can become the port of the future faster, by targeting domains like energy transition, innovation and digitisation. We believe that cargo handling, logistics and industry will be better rooted in a united port, making us more of a gateway to Europe than we are now."
Dirk De Fauw, chairman of Zeebrugge port authority (MBZ) noted: “It is the ambition of both port authorities to bring about a future proof A to Z mainport. Mutual trust has gradually grown and, combined with the positive outcome of the investigation, provides the right basis for formal talks.”
Only a very far reaching integration of the two port authorities will deliver the win-win situation sought, Deloitte stressed. The outcome would at least need to feature a holding over the two ports - such as with North Sea Port (Ghent and the ZSP ports of Flushing and Terneuzen) - if not an all-out merger, it is suggested. Perhaps Zeebrugge and Antwerp see a threat from NSP, going forward?
A merger would further cement Antwerp’s position as Europe’s second biggest port, as its annual 235 Mt would be joined by Zeebrugge’s 40 Mt-plus figure. From its location directly on the North Sea, Zeebrugge has a similar nautical potential to Rotterdam’s two Maasvlaktes.
Zeebrugge’s key markets include LNG, ro-ro and cars, of which it handles an impressive 2.8M units a year, and containers, with Cosco and CMA CGM as major customers at the 1 M TEU CSP Zeebrugge Terminal. Zeebrugge offers container ships in the 20,000 TEU-plus range even better accessibility than Flushing, where PSA had once planned its Westerschelde Container Terminal, or the Saeftinghedok that Antwerp aims for directly west of its Deurganckdok.
WorldCargo News has no knowledge of whether there are plans to increase Zeebrugge’s deep sea container capacity. Perhaps, in a merged port context, a merger could strengthen the environmental lobby against the plans for Saeftinghedok, which would bulldoze the "global counterculture village" of Doel. The bottom line, however, is that Zeebrugge cannot match Antwerp’s multimodal connectivity for hinterland access. It does not have the same rail infrastructure and barges would need to have sea-going capabilities, increasing the cost of inland waterway distribution along the Rhine Corridor.